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Wednesday, 10 December 1986
Page: 3694

Senator COATES —I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations about an article in the Australian Financial Review last week reporting the withdrawal of the Confederation of Australian Industry from the national priorities project, which I understand was an employer-sponsored research project focusing on taxation reform, public expenditure and industrial relations policy. Is the Government concerned that, consequent on the CAI's withdrawal, the project will be significantly curtailed, therefore limiting the employer contribution to the economic debate as the Government sets policy in the coming year?

Senator WALSH —One of the things that this Government has done, probably to an unprecedented degree, is to encourage public debate about major economic issues and to sponsor a wide-ranging consultation process-most notably the National Economic Summit, shortly after the present Government was elected, and the National Taxation Summit last year. The concept of Australia's employer organisations setting up the national priorities project, or a project of that type, to fund research is, in principle, something that the Government welcomes. But I understand that there have been considerable tensions between the relevant organisations associated with that, which in turn are attributable, I think, to the naked political ambitions of a number of the most visible members of that group, in particular the tensions attributable to the political campaigns being conducted continuously by the President of the Australian Federation of Employers, Andrew Hay. The Australian Federation of Employers is itself beginning to disintegrate with the withdrawal of the Confederation of Australian Industry and the Housing Industry Association. It seems that about the only people who are going to be left in the Australian Federation of Employers shortly are Mr Hay and the National Farmers Federation-and perhaps not even the National Farmers Federation but just its President, Mr McLachlan. I think I have probably covered the question. In principle, the Government welcomes the project, but it would appear that it is not going along too well because of the squabbling from the various groups that are involved in it. Indeed, that is something very like the squabbling within the Liberal Party, to which it is also related.